Schmoke fears risk, Burns charges Mayoral challenger says Schmoke fails to understand the art of the economic deal.

August 22, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

There are at least two versions of the economic development progress made during Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration. One comes from mayoral challenger Clarence H. Du Burns and the other, from Schmoke, is not nearly so colorful.

As Schmoke vies for a second term, the outspoken Burns is attacking Schmoke's economic development record. The 72-year-old former mayor says Schmoke has failed in the development arena because he doesn't understand the art of the deal.

Under Schmoke, Burns says, development has shown signs of a slowdown because the mayor is less willing to work for the kind of financial packages -- usually involving federal, state and city funding -- that can guarantee a development's success.

In short, Burns says, Schmoke will not take risks. Burns says he and his predecessor as mayor, William Donald Schaefer, both took risks in office but Schmoke is reluctant to do so.

"You have to take risks in a city like Baltimore," Burns says. "The Inner Harbor was a risk. But the majority of the things we did [in the Inner Harbor], this city is living on today" in terms of tax revenues.

Schmoke strongly rejects the criticism, saying Burns is distorting his record. Moreover, Schmoke says he is more deliberative than Schaefer or Burns, and says his style has proved prudent in view of the economy.

Schmoke, 41, who has tried to turn the city's attention away from the Inner Harbor and toward high-tech and research development projects, says the city has much to boast about despite a recession that has crippled other municipalities.

"There are very few cities right now where you can go and see cranes in the streets and buildings going up," the mayor says. He says "I believe I have learned" the art of the deal.

As evidence, Schmoke points to projects such as the $600 million HarborView condominiums; the $350 million, multi-use Inner Harbor East project; the 27-story expanded IBM building and the razed McCormick & Co. spice building.

Supporters have urged the mayor not to shy away from taking credit for even more projects, some of which began under previous administrations but are moving forward under him. Schmoke, however, appears cautious about staking such claims.

"I think he's clearly uncomfortable with that," says Schmoke spokesman Clint Coleman. "His philosophy is to get it done and get it done right and don't worry about who gets the credit."

But Burns says he sees something else at work in Schmoke's reticence.

He blasts Schmoke over his handling of the Port Covington Commons business park, saying the city was on the verge of becoming part-owner of the property when he lost the election to Schmoke in 1987.

The 150-acre waterfront park in South Baltimore is the site of the Baltimore Sun's new printing and distribution facility and is the focus of an intensive redevelopment effort by the city and the park's owners, Times Mirror Co. and CSX Transportation.

Burns says that after Schmoke took over as mayor and the deal appeared to be falling through, he made several attempts to reach Schmoke through his assistant, Lynnette Young. Those calls, however, were never returned and on the fourth try, Burns says, he told Young: "If the mayor doesn't want to talk to me, you tell him he can go to hell."

Burns says if he had been re-elected, the city would have held an equity interest in Port Covington and been more closely involved with its development.

As for Schmoke, Burns says:

"There are ways to do things that I think this young man doesn't have the slightest idea how to do."

But Schmoke says Burns had oversimplified the Port Covington negotiations and ignored the fact that Times Mirror and CSX had rejected the city's proposal before Schmoke became mayor.

"It was so heavily conditioned that the offer was never accepted by the main parties," Schmoke said. "There were 20-odd conditions. It oversimplifies to say the issue was ownership or no ownership."

While Schmoke denies he was too cautious on the Port Covington deal, he agrees that he takes a thoughtful approach on development matters. He also says some projects were rushed through under Schaefer and Burns, and hindsight shows that caution should have prevailed.

He refers specifically to the Brokerage, Fishmarket and Power Plant -- trendy complexes in or near the Inner Harbor area that have either closed or suffered vacancy problems in recent years.

Such projects, pushed while Schaefer was mayor and Burns was president of the City Council, were "a little ahead of the market," Schmoke says.

Some critics have quietly accused Schmoke of failing to take enough interest in development.

Much of the criticism appears to stem from Schmoke's early days as mayor, when he stopped developers from coming to the mayor's office before going through regular channels at City Hall. Getting the mayor's endorsement first was common practice when Schaefer held the city's top position, Schmoke says.

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